Broadway coming back strong
First baseman finding swing after injury-plagued season
It was Spring Training, 2005. Everyone in the Nationals organization expected first baseman Larry Broadway to take a giant step toward the big leagues.
That February, Triple-A New Orleans manager Tim Foli took one look at Broadway's swing and nicknamed him "Olerud" after Red Sox first baseman John Olerud because of Broadway's sweet swing from the left side of the plate.
Entering the season, Broadway had the numbers to back up the nickname. He had a .286 batting average with 46 home runs and 171 RBIs in three professional seasons.
But Broadway, who was considered the top hitting prospect in the Nationals system, didn't swing like Olerud to start the season at New Orleans. Broadway got off to an 11-for-57 (.193) start with no home runs.
It didn't help that he was playing with a sore right groin, which he'd hurt while running the bases on opening night against Memphis. He would miss five games before returning to action.
"I tried to get it going from there, but I never really got my legs together [in terms of hitting the baseball].," said Broadway, who was drafted by the Expos in the third round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft.
But that injury was minor compared with what happened to him in late April. Broadway partially tore his right tibial collateral ligament while diving for a ball down the first-base line at Zephyrs Stadium. Broadway would go on to miss 2 1/2 months of the season.
"The knee landed on [a seam where the grass and dirt meet], and the field is not in very good condition," Broadway said. "It knocked my shinbone back and partially tore my TCL. It was the craziest, stupidest thing ever."
During his time off, Broadway, 24, put on weight to hit for more power. He went from 220 pounds to 240. The weight gain paid off once he was activated from the disabled list.
Broadway was sent down to Double-A Harrisburg and hit .269 with 12 home runs and 24 RBIs in 186 at-bats.
"I missed 2 1/2 months, and I couldn't do a whole lot of cardio, so I ate a bunch and worked on my upper body strength along with my leg lifting," Broadway said.
"Usually, I take a running program to try and get in shape, but I'm going to try to maintain this kind of weight from here on out. It's easier for me to swing the bat. I feel like I can carry this weight."
Because Broadway missed a lot of time during the regular season, the Nationals decided to send him to the Arizona Fall League, where he is hitting .379 for the Peoria Saguaros, a team managed by Eddie Rodriguez.
"I'm swinging the bat better than I have in a while," Broadway said. "I feel like I've made some strides. I understand a little bit more about my swing and what I need to do. I have another year under my belt."
Despite his success on the diamond in recent months, Broadway appears to be a long shot at making the big-league team out of Spring Training. The incumbent first baseman, Nick Johnson, had the best season of his career and is expected to be in the Opening Day lineup.
Broadway is starting to think that he may need to be traded to another team to get his shot at the big-league level, especially since he doesn't think being switched to the outfield would work for him.
"I want to be a part of the Nationals," Broadway said. "Obviously, Nick Johnson had a great year. It's his job. It's hard for a first baseman to make the squad when they already have one.
"I could switch to another position, but I take pride in my defense at first base and that's one of my assets -- being able to pick up the ball over there. [Switching to another position] would take away from my game."
Nationals scouting director Dana Brown still believes Broadway is his best hitter in the Minor Leagues and that he has a future with the Nationals.
"This guy is going to be fine," Brown said. "He was drafted in 2002, and I think he will get to the big leagues sometime in 2006, which is not bad," Brown said. "We love Nick. He is good offensively and defensively, but Nick gets hurt [a lot], and you never know. I know it will be tough to crack the lineup with Nick there.
"Larry has talent and bat potential. Injuries are part of the game. He had a freak accident. He came back and stayed in good shape. That tells you the kind of makeup the guy has."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.